Shia and Sunni Muslims

 

 

Question: What's the Difference Between Shia and Sunni Muslims?

 

From http://islam.about.com/cs/divisions/f/shia_sunni.htm

 

Answer: Both Sunni and Shia Muslims share the most fundamental Islamic beliefs and articles of faith. The differences between these two main sub-groups within Islam initially stemmed not from spiritual differences, but political ones. Over the centuries, however, these political differences have spawned a number of varying practices and positions which have come to carry a spiritual significance.

Origins - A Question of Leadership

The division between Shia and Sunni dates back to the death of the Prophet Muhammad, and the question of who was to take over the leadership of the Muslim nation. Sunni Muslims agree with the position taken by many of the Prophet's companions, that the new leader should be elected from among those capable of the job. This is what was done, and the Prophet Muhammad's close friend and advisor, Abu Bakr, became the first Caliph of the Islamic nation. The word "Sunni" in Arabic comes from a word meaning "one who follows the traditions of the Prophet."

On the other hand, some Muslims share the belief that leadership should have stayed within the Prophet's own family, among those specifically appointed by him, or among Imams appointed by God Himself.

The Shia Muslims believe that following the Prophet Muhammad's death, leadership should have passed directly to his cousin/son-in-law, Ali bin Abu Talib. Throughout history, Shia Muslims have not recognized the authority of elected Muslim leaders, choosing instead to follow a line of Imams which they believe have been appointed by the Prophet Muhammad or God Himself. The word "Shia" in Arabic means a group or supportive party of people. The commonly-known term is shortened from the historical "Shia-t-Ali," or "the Party of Ali." They are also known as followers of "Ahl-al-Bayt" or "People of the Household" (of the Prophet).

Distribution

Sunni Muslims make up the majority (85%) of Muslims all over the world. Significant populations of Shia Muslims can be found in Iran and Iraq, and large minority communities in Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, and Lebanon.

Differences in Religious Practice

From this initial question of political leadership, some aspects of spiritual life have been affected and now differ between the two groups of Muslims.

It is important to remember that despite these differences in opinion and practice, Shia and Sunni Muslims share the main articles of Islamic belief and are considered by most to be brethren in faith. In fact, most Muslims do not distinguish themselves by claiming membership in any particular group, but prefer to call themselves simply, "Muslims."

Religious Leadership

Shia Muslims believe that the Imam is sinless by nature, and that his authority is infallible as it comes directly from God. Therefore, Shia Muslims often venerate the Imams as saints and perform pilgrimages to their tombs and shrines in the hopes of divine intercession.

Sunni Muslims counter that there is no basis in Islam for a hereditary privileged class of spiritual leaders, and certainly no basis for the veneration or intercession of saints. Sunni Muslims contend that leadership of the community is not a birthright, but a trust that is earned and which may be given or taken away by the people themselves.

Religious Texts and Practices

Shia Muslims also feel animosity towards some of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad, based on their positions and actions during the early years of discord about leadership in the community. Many of these companions (Abu Bakr, Umar ibn Al Khattab, Aisha, etc.) have narrated traditions about the Prophet's life and spiritual practice. Shia Muslims reject these traditions (hadith) and do not base any of their religious practices on the testimony of these individuals. This naturally gives rise to some differences in religious practice between the two groups. These differences touch all detailed aspects of religious life: prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, etc.

 

From http://middleeast.about.com/od/glossary/g/me081206.htm and http://middleeast.about.com/od/religionsectarianism/a/me081206b.htm

Twelver Shiites are the followers of the 12 imams they consider to be the only rightful successors of the Prophet Muhammad, beginning with Ali ibn Ali Talib, Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law. Sunnis recognize Ali as the fourth caliph, but founding commonalities between Sunnis and Shiites end with him: Some Muslims had never recognized the first three as legitimate caliphs, thus forming the nucleus of Islam's protesting Shiites.

The seeming subversion never sat well with Sunnis, whose habit it became mercilessly and brutally to persecute Ali's followers and assassinating subsequent imams, most spectacularly among those the killing in battle of Hussayn, or Hussein, the third Imam (626-680), on the plains of Karbala. The killing is most famously commemorated in the annual rituals of Ashura.

The copious bloodletting gave Twelvers their two most prominent characteristics, like birthmarks on their creed: a cult of victimology, and a cult of martyrdom.

Twelvers never had an empire of their own until the Safavid dynasty was established in Iran in the 16th century and the Qajar dynasty in the late 18th century, when Twelvers reconciled the divine and the temporal in the leadership of the reigning imam.

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, through his revolution in Iran in 1979, pushed the fusion of the temporal and the divine furthest, adding a layer of ideological expediency, under the banner of "Supreme Leader."

"A strategic revolutionary," in the words of writer Colin Thubron, Khomeini "created his own Islamic state above Islamic law."

So to summarize, according to modern day Sunnis, these are the first four Caliphs who ruled after the death of Muhammad , and were called the Rashidun (the Righteous Caliphs).

But according to Shiites, and according to Ali himself, the leadership should have passed directly to Ali ibn Abi Talib back in 632.

Interestingly, while Ali had difficulties accepting Abu Bakr as Caliph, he pledged allegiance to the second caliph Umar ibn Khattab and helped him as a trusted advisor. Umar particularly relied upon Ali as the Chief Judge of Medina. He also advised Umar to set Hijra as the beginning of the Islamic calendar. Umar used Ali's suggestions in political issues as well as religious ones.

Shiites' 12 Imams

Rank

Imam

Birth & Death

Manner of Death

Today

1

Ali ibn Abu Talib

600661

Assassinated

First and Most Influential of Imams

2

Hasan ibn Ali

624670

Poisoned

 

3

Husayn ibn Ali

626680

Beheaded

Day of Ashura

4

Ali ibn Husayn

658(?)-712

Poisoned

 

5

Muhammad ibn Ali

677732

Poisoned

 

6

Ja'far ibn Muhammad

702765

Poisoned

His son Ismail formed Ismaili split

7

Musa ibn Ja'far

744-799

Poisoned

 

8

Ali ibn Musa

765-817

Poisoned

World's largest Mosque

9

Muhammad ibn Ali

810-835

Poisoned

 

10

Ali ibn Muhammad

827-868

Poisoned

Naqavi Descendants in Pakistan

11

Hasan ibn Ali

846-874

Poisoned

 

12

Muhammad ibn al-Hasan

868?-?

Still living

Hidden Imam

 

Click here re other Shiite groups

 

The Sunni-Shiite Divide

Country

Sunnis

Shiites & Offshoots

Afghanistan

84%

15%

Bahrain

30%

70%

Egypt

90%

1%

Iran

10%

89%

Iraq

32-37%

60-65%

Kuwait

60%

25%

Lebanon

23%

38%

Pakistan

77%

20%

Saudi Arabia

90%

10%

Syria

74%

16% (Alawites)

Turkey

83-93%

7-17%

United Arab Emirates

81%

15%

Yemen

70%

30%

Source: Congressional Research Service

** End of article.